Concept experience #5


By William Hughes

Jun 27, 2014 3:30 PM

Scientists at Facebook have published a paper showing that they manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” was published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. It shows how Facebook data scientists tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts appear on users’ news feeds—specifically, researchers skewed the number of positive or negative terms seen by randomly selected users. Facebook then analyzed the future postings of those users over the course of a week to see if people responded with increased positivity or negativity of their own, thus answering the question of whether emotional states can be transmitted across a social network. Result: They can! Which is great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology. It’s less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated.

In order to sign up for Facebook, users must click a box saying they agree to the Facebook Data Use Policy, giving the company the right to access and use the information posted on the site. The policy lists a variety of potential uses for your data, most of them related to advertising, but there’s also a bit about “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” In the study, the authors point out that they stayed within the data policy’s liberal constraints by using machine analysis to pick out positive and negative posts, meaning no user data containing personal information was actually viewed by human researchers. And there was no need to ask study “participants” for consent, as they’d already given it by agreeing to Facebook’s terms of service in the first place.

Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer is listed as the study’s lead author. In an interview the company released a few years ago, Kramer is quoted as saying he joined Facebook because “Facebook data constitutes the largest field study in the history of the world.” It’s a charming reminder that Facebook isn’t just the place you go to see pictures of your friends’ kids or your racist uncle’s latest rant against the government—it’s also an exciting research lab, with all of us as potential test subjects.


Part II: Reflection

In doing this assignment, I knew what words and phrases to add links to when I found myself wishing there was a convenient way for me to find a little more about each of the words and phrases that stood out to me. I found it actually natural for me to place links in the right place, almost as if I’ve read enough online articles in my life that I could possibly write one myself. The first phrase I put a link to was the paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” because I knew for a fact that it would be a headache to have to type all of that into Google. I also put a link for modern psychology because it stood out to me and I did not know what modern psychology was as well.

I actually did find myself wanting to add a little to the text but also removing a lot from the text, especially when the author wrote a little about the Facebook policy that did not really support what the controversy was about. I would have added some more background to the Facebook experiment as well as given my opinion on the matter as well to add perspective.

I do not think I would actually add anymore visuals just because I felt that the text was a little short and not many visuals would work well with this article. However, in my opinion, for this specific article, I do not think that not having the links makes any significant difference because most of the links are easy to find but it definitely opened my eyes up to the importance of providing links for essays and articles submitted online.

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4 Responses to “Concept experience #5”

  1. July 21, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    Yeah I agree that it felt natural to add links to some words. Doing this makes it so much easier then have to actually include it in the article.

    I would also have to agree with the fact that there should have been more information on the experiment. It was a bit confusing but after adding links and doing background research I was able to find out about. As I am sure you were able to do as well.

    You can never go wrong with pictures or visuals!

  2. July 13, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    You linked to the Kramer interview, which I also found as I practiced this assignment. Kramer was asked: Q: What are some of the interesting questions you’ve answered since you’ve been here?

    And his answer was: Do emotions spread contagiously? What do the words we choose have to say about how we are and who we are?

    THESE were his research questions for his study — just as you guys have a research question. Also loved the comments after this interview:
    And out of intellectual curiosity, can you guys actually measure how much WORSE you have made the world? Keep us all posted!

    Comments indicate furious facebook users!

  3. July 12, 2014 at 4:11 am #

    Yea i also felt the visuals were adequate for the length of the paper. Anymore without adding additional writing would make it almost like 50/50. I am glad i am not the only one who would of added more opinion, I think this whole thing is too slimy to just give it a pass without saying anything about the potentially unethical status of it all.

  4. July 11, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Sarah, you did a great job in supplementing the most important hyperlinks to webpages. that are most relevant for the paper. well done!

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